Is your nonstick cookware safe to use?

Whether you need a 13×9 pan to bake your favorite casserole or a skillet to whip up an easy one-dish dinner, chances are you reach for what you thought was perfectly safe nonstick cookware. But according to a recent investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), those pots and pans could actually contain harmful chemicals, which could make them one of the common kitchen items that are secretly toxic.

Here’s everything you need to know (and why you should even care). Plus, we offer tips for spotting the difference between safe nonstick cookware and toxic nonstick cookware.

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Cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic
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Cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic

Cooking with the wrong fats

Cook with olive oil—but only for certain foods. Butter is back—but is butter better? And then there's coconut oil—actually, there are many reasons not to cook with coconut oil. So what are the healthiest fats for cooking? Maggie Michalczyk, registered dietitian in Chicago, recommends doing your homework before buying a jumbo jug of one particular oil and using it for everything. "These oils have different smoke points—that's the temperature at which they begin to burn—and once they start smoking, the fat breaks down and they can release harmful free radicals into the air," she says. Oils with high smoke points that are great for high-heat cooking include avocado oil (refined), almond oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil. Regardless of smoke point, you'll want to limit soybean and corn oils, which studies have linked to diabetes. Also, keep portions of oils in check when cooking to prevent additional calories (most serving sizes are two tablespoons). You might find this information on cooking oils helpful.

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Overheating healthy oils

Oils with low smoke points are better for salad dressings or adding to already cooked foods—but not for high temp cooking. "Certain oils, like olive oil and coconut oil, contain nutritional compounds that can be destroyed when heating to high temperatures above their smoke points," explains Ben Roche, Michelin-star chef and director of product development at Just. For general cooking at home (sautéing, frying, roasting), he recommends using a neutral oil, like grapeseed or sunflower. For flavoring cold sauces and drizzling over prepared food, he suggests using extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil to preserve flavor and nutrition. Just make sure you're not buying fake olive oil.

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Frying your food

It might taste downright delicious, but consuming deep-fried food on the regular can be deadly. "The act of frying turns otherwise healthy foods, like vegetables and lean meats, into unhealthy, trans-fat-laden treats," says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist. Additionally, consumption of fried foods has been linked to a myriad of health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. If you can't shake your fried-food obsession, Kimszal suggests purchasing an air fryer. This device does not require any oil to cook your food, so you can still enjoy your favorite foods without all the trans fat that will hurt your health. These foods that contain trans fats will shock you.

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Charring your meat

While raw or undercooked meat can pose health hazards, so can overcooked or charred meats. "Cooking meats above 300°F, which usually results from grilling or pan frying, can form compounds called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), that may be harmful to human DNA," warns Christen Cupples Cooper, EdD, RDN, assistant professor and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the College of Health Professions at Pace University. "Some research suggests that when metabolized, these compounds may activate enzymes linked to cancer risk." While the research is limited, Cooper believes there's enough evidence to recommend reducing your exposure to these chemical compounds. "Avoid cooking foods for any length of time over an open flame or hot metal surface, turn meat frequently during cooking, and cut away charred portions of meat," she says.

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Using the wrong cookware

Just like it's important to know what ingredients are in the food you eat, you should also know what ingredients are used to create the cookware you use. "Nonstick cookware is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to toxicity," warns Raul Serrano, DC, doctor of functional medicine in Palm Harbor, Florida. "Teflon, which is practically everywhere (cookie sheets, muffin pans, and frying pans), contains a man-made chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8)." Some studies have found links between PFOA exposure and cancer development, reproduction, and liver dysfunction. Serrano recommends healthier alternatives, such as cast iron, glass, ceramic, and stainless steel. (Here's the best way to organize your pots and pans.)

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Storing your leftovers in plastic containers

In the same vein of being careful when selecting your cookware, you always want to take precaution when purchasing your food storage containers. "Some popular storage containers on the market contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which studies have shown that once ingested, mimic estrogen in our bodies," says Dr. Serrano. "High levels of estrogen result in weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, headaches, and higher risk of certain cancers." Instead, he recommends swapping out plastic containers for glass containers.

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Getting too much salt 

If there's one flavor Americans love in their food, it's salt. In fact, about 90 percent of people living in the United States over the age of two consume too much of the stuff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg of salt per day, which is about a teaspoon; the average adult is consuming around 3,592 mg. "In some cases, our taste buds may be desensitized to the flavor of salt," says Michalczyk. The problem is all the sodium packed into prepackaged foods: According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed food. Here are some foods that are surprisingly high in sodium.

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Adding too much sugar

If there's one flavor Americans love in their food, it's salt. In fact, about 90 percent of people living in the United States over the age of two consume too much of the stuff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg of salt per day, which is about a teaspoon; the average adult is consuming around 3,592 mg. "In some cases, our taste buds may be desensitized to the flavor of salt," says Michalczyk. The problem is all the sodium packed into prepackaged foods: According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed food. Here are some foods that are surprisingly high in sodium.

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Relying on processed frozen food dishes for weekday meals

It's tempting to turn to a frozen meal that promises to be ready for you in just three minutes in the microwave, especially after a long, stressful day of work. But oftentimes, these foods contain a slew of preservatives and chemicals that are hazardous to your long-term health. Remember that humans have only been exposed to these for a very short time in evolutionary history," says Krampf. "Not only do processed foods leave less room in your diet for healthier foods, but they are loaded with ingredients like artificial preservatives, refined sugar, and white flour." Instead, she recommends opting for whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, eggs, and meat whenever possible. And, if you must buy something in a box, choose one with ingredients that you can at least understand and pronounce. Here are frozen meals you can feel good about feeding your kids.

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Drinking a glass of wine while cooking

Unless you're sipping on a full stomach, experts warn against having that glass of wine while stirring your family's meal, as relaxing as it might be. "Drinking on an empty stomach can lead to an unhealthy spike in blood sugar," says Michalczyk. "Plus you may notice that the longer you wait to eat after the initial drink, the hungrier you will feel, which may lead you to overdo on whatever food you see next." Or the opposite can happen: Drinking alcohol before a meal might suppress your appetite, causing you to miss out on calories and nutrients your body needs. Here's what happens when you drink a glass of wine every night.

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Using 'low-fat' everything you can find

There was a time when nutrition experts believed that fat was the enemy, but, thankfully, that time has come and gone. We've since learned that there is good fat and bad fat: Anything fried isn't too great, but avocados and fish are full of good fat (omega-3-fatty acids). Krampf warns that not adding enough fat when cooking is a mistake. "In addition to being an energy source and protection or organs, fat is used in cell membrane function, start reactions that affect the immune system and metabolism, and allow for absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K," she says. Here are some clear signs you're not eating enough healthy fats.

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What the study found

Based on its findings, the FDA reported that PFAs (a group of 5,000 synthetic chemicals that are also known as “forever chemicals”) are present in about 98 percent of Americans’ bloodstreams. And one of the major sources? The food we eat, the Environmental Protection Agency claims, noting that the dangerous substances are absorbed into food from things like nonstick cookware.

Here’s what you need to know

While the FDA says that the levels of PFAs are not yet high enough to be harmful to our health, that doesn’t mean that the recent results aren’t troubling. After all, PFAs (which can flake off into your food when you’re cooking over high heat) have been associated with serious health risks including cancer, infertility, and kidney or liver damage—to name a few.

And even though scientists don’t know the exact effects of PFAs on our bodies, it’s always smart to avoid exposing yourself to toxic, manufactured substances when possible. Beware these cooking mistakes that can also make your food toxic.

How to choose safe nonstick cookware

As a result of the study, many PFAs have been banned from being used to produce pots and pans moving forward. But if you’re in the market for a new set right now, stay away from aluminum and Teflon materials, which can contain high levels of PFAs and other chemicals. Instead, follow this guide to buying nonstick cookware and look for non-toxic materials like ceramic, stainless steel, or tempered glass.

And to make your safe nonstick cookware last longer (and prevent it from releasing any potentially harmful chemicals), make sure you clean it properly and avoid chipping the pan with metal utensils or cooking over high heat, both of which can cause PFAs to enter your food or the air you’re breathing. You can also take a look at this guide to the safe types of cookware you should be buying.

Originally Published on Taste of Home

10 PHOTOS
10 best cooking shortcuts from Joanna Gaines
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10 best cooking shortcuts from Joanna Gaines

Stock up on crescent rolls

To get that homemade feel you don’t always have to make everything 100% from scratch. In Magnolia Table, Joanna relies on refrigerated crescent roll dough for a few tasty recipes, like her quick orange-walnut sweet rolls and her classic chicken potpie. This cuts the prep time down significantly, and the results can taste just as good as something made all by hand.

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Save time with rotisserie chicken

While everyone loves a perfectly roasted chicken for dinner—and then the leftovers used in tasty dinners all week—it can be hard to find the time to roast one on a busy evening. That’s why Joanna grabs a grocery store rotisserie chicken to use in a handful of recipes, like her cozy chicken potpie.

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Turn tricky dishes into casseroles

Have a favorite dish that you always order at a restaurant but is just too tricky to make at home? Joanna says turn those into a casserole! She explains in her book that Chip loves eggs Benedict, but making individual servings at home can be a real hassle. So to get that same flavor with less work, Joanna turned it into an easy-to-make, easy-to-serve casserole. Genius! 

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Use store-bought crust

Pie crust serves as the foundation for so many of our favorite dishes—pie (obviously!), quiches and tarts—but making your own crust from scratch is sometimes too time-consuming. According to Joanna, don’t worry about it! She writes in Magnolia table that she subs store-bought crust for homemade all the time, especially when she’s whipping up a tasty quiche.

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Refrigerated biscuits are your friend

We all know that Joanna is a true Southern gal with an authentic recipe for buttermilk biscuits (you can check out how to make them right here), but we also know she’s a busy woman! That’s why when it comes to chicken and dumplings, Joanna says that you can easily substitute packaged biscuits for her biscuit and dumpling recipe.

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Focus on the main dish and take shortcuts on the sides

In Magnolia Table, Joanna explains how enchiladas are a family favorite in her house. The cheese-filled chicken enchiladas are the star of the show and the side dishes—beans and rice—are just supporting players. So when time is tight, focus on the main, and used packaged rice as a quick substitute. Joanna prefers Knorr brand Mexican rice mix.

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Transform your condiments 

We love our sandwiches layered with flavored aiolis, but we never think to make those fancy types of mayonnaise at home. After all, mayonnaise from scratch can be a real chore. But to get that same effect, Joanna takes her favorite mayonnaise (she says she prefers Hellman’s) and stirs in a handful of herbs and spices. For her version, add chopped chives, garlic, dill, parsley, paprika and a bit of lemon juice. Feel free to add your favorite flavors to dress up your sandwiches.

Have a boxed pancake mix on hand

While Magnolia Table has an exceptional recipe for fluffy pancakes, Joanna writes, “I always have a boxed mix in the pantry for when I just don’t have the time.” It’s always smart to have these backup plans, plus boxed mixes serve as a great foundation for all sorts of recipes like these pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes and even this five-star breaded catfish.

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Use basics as a base

Even the most unassuming ingredients can turn into a craveable snack. In Magnolia Table, Joanna describes how her friend makes the tastiest seasoned crackers, perfect for parties. Try our version with these seasoned crackers—only four ingredients!

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There's always pizza

No matter how carefully you plan or how carefully you read a recipe, sometimes dishes can just go wrong. If something goes wrong and your dinner flops, take this advice from Chip and Joanna from Magnolia Table, “there’s always pizza.”

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